Sueye Park Tackles the 20th Century on her Violin

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REGER: Prelude & Fugue in D min. KREISLER: Recitativo & Scherzo-Caprice. YSAŸE: Solo Violin Sonata No. 6. STRAUSS: Daphne-Étude. PROKOFIEV: Solo Violin Sonata in D. WEINBERG: Solo Violin Sonata No. 2. YUN: Königliches Tema. SCHNITTKE: A Paganini. PENDERECKI: Capriccio / Sueye Park, vln / Bis SACD-2492

Here Korean violinist Sueye Park, who joins a growing multitude of performers who are “one of the most remarkable talents of [his/her] generation,” tackles a wide variety of musical styles from the 20th century, beginning with Reger (born in 1873) and ending with Penderecki (who died last year). But of course not all 20th century composers were created equal, thus we have the turgid music of Reger juxtaposed with the lightweight scherzo-caprice of Fritz Kreisler, an even lighter little étude by Richard Strauss, sandwich around the much meatier music of Ysaÿe, Prokofiev and Weinberg. The kicker in this program is the music of Isang Yun (1917-1995), a name I’ve never even run across before.

But I must admit that Park plays Reger as if he were a passionate Russian composer, thus lifting his prelude and fugue to a level of enjoyment I would never have expected, and her performance of the Kreisler makes that violinist-composer’s music sound a bit meatier than usual.

Where she runs into some difficulty is in her performance of the Ysaÿe sonata No. 6. It’s played with a bright tone and plenty of energy, but she doesn’t seem to know what to do with the music except to play it exuberantly, and Ysaÿe’s sonatas require more penetrating insight than that. She really should listen to Maxim Brilinsky for a few pointers. She does, however, play the Prokofiev solo sonata with great fire and energy, and there is quite a bit of pathos in the Weinberg sonata.

The one thing that bothered me was Park’s use of vibrato, so light in several instances that it sounded as if she were playing with straight tone. I just knew that, sooner or later, this ugly blight on the art of string playing would eventually creep into 20th-century works. Apparently, younger violinists are so scared to death of offending the HIP Mafia that they can’t even cut loose with a fulsome, rich vibrato when the music cries out for it, but for this I blame Park’s teachers more than the violinist herself. Alas, I will probably go to my grave without ever hearing another Perlman, Oistrakh or Salerno-Sonnenberg. They are the dinosaurs. The whiny school of violin playing now virtually dominates the classical music landscape.

But, as I say, at least she does use some vibrato, and pretty frequently in louder, sustained notes. As it turns out, the music of Isang Yun, or at least this specific piece, is very rigorously written and developed, being based on a theme from J.S. Bach’s A Musical Offering but expanded and developed in a modern-German manner (despite being born in South Korea, Yun’s musical studies were in Paris and Germany). It’s a very interesting piece and I was glad to have heard it, although its tendency to stay in one harmonic space for long stretches of time became a bit wearing as the piece went on.

Although I’ve stated in previous posts that I generally don’t like Alfred Schnittke’s music with two exceptions, the Violin Concerto No. 3 and The Yellow Sound, I did like most of this weirdly atmospheric piece. Titled A Paganini, it begins with the mere suggestion of a motif or theme, growing out of almost nothing to become quite complex and emotional, ending with an outcry of angst based on snippets from Paganini’s Caprices. It’s not quite as strong as Schnittke’s third Violin Concerto, but I found it more interesting than most of the remainder of his output, and here Park really outdoes herself, throwing her whole spirit and energy into a performance of astounding virtuosity. I should also mention that this recording uses the original, longer version of the piece, which is rarely performed. As a combination of musical invention and passionate performing, this may well be the highlight of this entire CD.

We end with a capriccio by Penderecki, typically ugly, pointless music, though played with great passion by Park. All in all, a fine disc, with my few reservations noted above.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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